A reunion set from El Valiente, Momentum Urban Arts Fest, “Brigsby Bear,” and more events of note in Madison this week.
(Image: El Valiente, photo by Nath Dresser.)
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FRIDAY, AUGUST 23
In the energetically weird Sundance sensation Brigsby Bear, Kyle Mooney’s hair is full of secrets. The SNL cast member co-wrote the 2017 film and stars in it as James Pope, a wide-eyed, bushy-haired young man who has lived all his life in a remote desert bunker. Despite the enigmatic, survivalist backdrop, the bunker turns out to be a cozy home, where the overgrown James’ main concern is celebrating and binge-watching an obscure ’90s-style children’s adventure show titled Brigsby Bear. (To grasp the Brigsby aesthetic, imagine the soft, slow-blinking animatronic eyes of Barney but on a bear character who teams up with twin girls dressed like Zenon: Girl Of The 21st Century to fight Power Rangers villains.)
Everything changes when James loses access to new episodes of his beloved show and is forced to embark on a quest to understand his world, the show’s creators, and, ultimately, himself. Brigsby Bear’s trailers are purposefully vague, so I’ll leave the plot summary there, as the story’s evolution is best experienced with little foreknowledge. However, I can assure you that viewers will be treated to a rich, off-kilter Mark Hamill (Star Wars) performance, enorm ously fun B-movie aesthetics, the most wholesome tale of an art project bringing people together since Sing Street, and a surprisingly thoughtful rumination on what to do when the people and things you trusted to teach and protect you let you down.
Brigsby Bear’s real-world backstory is also surprisingly sweet. Mooney co-wrote the film with his middle school best friend Kevin Costello and then had their other middle school bud, Dave McCary (Epic Rap Battles Of History) direct the thing. The film was produced by the Lonely Island, the astoundingly busy team of Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone, who’ve racked up credits from the buddy comedy Neighbors to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping to beloved tv sitcoms Brooklyn 99 and Pen15.
All of these creators’ major works tend to combine sophomoric humor with fraught, emotive bonds and Brigsby Bear is no different, but never has their love of teamwork, movie-making, and goofy battle choreography been paired with such an explosively surreal and tender story. Brigsby is a chapter worth catching in the ongoing careers of some of modern comedy’s silliest luminaries. —Kailee Andrews
Instrumental-rock trio El Valiente operated from 2006 to 2016, and over the course of those 10 years became one of Madison’s most beloved and most distinctive bands. Even audiences who wouldn’t normally seek out long-form post-rock instrumentals found El Valiente approachable, because for all its complexity the band knew how to lash everything together with warm, twangy melodies. Guitarist Eric Caldera brought a pronounced Southwestern flavor to the band, channeled through playfully off-center phrasing and a gorgeous sense of space. Just about everyone who wrote about the band, me included, made perhaps inevitable comparisons to spaghetti-Western scores, even though El Valiente’s emotional range went far beyond moody suspense. Percussionist Joe Bernstein simultaneously gave shape to the band’s twisty song structures with three limbs and used the remaining arm to play glittering counter-melodies on glockenspiel. All of this required a lot of flexibility from bassist Kris Hansen (and his predecessor, bassist David Sperka), who sometimes kept pace with the songs’ fast-moving melodic themes and sometimes hung back to provide an anchor in El Valiente’s dreamiest moments. From the flickering introduction of “Emergency Caller / Utah Desert” (on 2007’s El Topo) to the restless tension of “Chico Chism & Chico Hamilton (Two Chicos)” (on 2009’s Daceton) to the fanciful jump-cuts of the title track of 2012’s White Comanche, these songs also translated powerfully in the band’s live sets.
El Valiente played its official “last” show in 2016, as Caldera prepared to move to L.A. to pursue his career in entomology, which also spelled the end (or at least a break) for Caldera’s other long-running project, Oedipus Tex. This reunion set, at Mickey’s, will likely just be a one-off, and the band plans to play material from all three of El Valiente’s albums. The members left things on good terms, so hopefully they can rekindle their live chemistry without a hitch. El Valiente will also be playing a live set on WORT on Friday afternoon (around 3 p.m.), and Caldera will be reprising his role as a member of Cribshitter, for that band’s Thursday, August 22 show at the High Noon Saloon. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, AUGUST 24
Madison doesn’t have the greatest track record of supporting street art, but it’s by nature a tenacious medium. Outside of the long-running permission wall at Mother Fool’s on Willy Street, other recent developments suggest that things can turn around, from the works Triangulador seems to be creating on discarded junk all over town to the spread of more officially sanctioned mural projects that blend the ethos of street art with that of public art to a science-themed street art initiative at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. But perhaps most importantly, the intersection of Cottage Grove Road and Monona Drive has become an unlikely street-art hub, thanks in large part to a store called Momentum Art Tech that opened in 2017. Momentum owner James Gubbins not only sells street-art supplies and gives lessons, but also has connected with local businesses around this corner of the east side, convincing many to open up their walls.
Momentum has partnered with the Monona East Side Business Alliance to organize the inaugural Momentum Urban Arts Fest, during which dozens of street artists—from locals to visiting luminaries like C3P0, Statik, and Antck—will create new collaborative murals at at least 17 different locations. Most are along Monona Drive between Cottage Grove Road and West Broadway, and most are businesses, from Chief’s Tavern to Rutabaga Paddlesports. There are a few private homes in the mix, including a relative outlier near the corner of East Wash and First Street. The basic idea is for people to grab the festival map and take a self-guided tour of all the works in progress, on bike or on foot. Momentum Art Tech itself will of course be the epicenter, with a bunch of artists working in the alley behind the building and DJs spinning in the parking lot. If the purpose of street art is to reclaim the urban environment and make you look where you usually wouldn’t, this event seems ready to advance the cause. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY, AUGUST 25
Andrew Trim, who divides his time between Chicago and Milwaukee, has carved out a few promising channels for expanding and recontextualizing jazz guitar. In the trio Dim Lightning, Trim often crafts tangled lines that threaten to turn volatile, forming the outer edge of a diffuse storm. His quartet Hanami draws on Trim’s childhood experiences living in Japan with his family. Trim, saxophonist Mai Sugimoto, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, and drummer Charles Rumback nitially formed for a one-off fundraising effort for victims of Japan’s 2011 tsunami, but Hanami has grown into an in-depth exploration of Japanese folk melodies. The quartet’s second album, 2016’s The Only Way To Float Free, treats the source material with an inquisitive grace. “Hanaikada” finds Trim using conversational chords to bridge Stein and Sugimoto’s intertwining interpretations of the song’s main theme; Trim’s playing isn’t supposed to be the first thing you notice here, but it helps the tricky interplay between the two reed players make sense. Trim has more aggressive moments in this band (especially on “Kita Nagano Motorcycle Gang”), but all the same it captures his many approaches to buoying up an ensemble and keeping its harmonic possibilities wide open.
Trim will be playing an improvised duo set here with Milwaukee-based musician Barry Paul Clark, who has played in projects including Field Report and the ambitious new-music quartet Tontine Ensemble. Clark also makes dark and wonderfully disorienting electronic music under the name adoptahighway. Clark also plays with Trim in the Milwaukee band Lady Cannon, and the two have been collaborating as a duo, including in a project where they make improvised music for yoga. Given the versatility of both players and their comfort with so many different musical forms, this show should be a highlight of Arts + Literature Lab’s Sunday-afternoon New Music Series, organized by Madison-based saxophonist and composer Anders Svanoe. —Scott Gordon
MONDAY, AUGUST 26
Musicians based right here in Madison are providing ample evidence that jazz and improvised music have a fighting chance (and an audience) in this town, building a community that cuts across generations and differing styles, from free-jazz firebrands like Brennan Connors & Stray Passage to deep Latin-jazz explorers like Golpe Tierra. But another important vital sign is that Madison has upped its game in terms of bringing in out-of-town luminaries who are truly moving the music forward, largely thanks to small venues like the North Street Cabaret, Arts + Literature Lab, and Café Coda. For instance, Chicago-based multi-reedist Ken Vandermark has gotten here pretty often in recent years, in various solo and collaborative settings. He returns here with fellow cutting-edge saxophonist Mars Williams in the duo project Cinghiale.
The name is the Italian word for “wild boar,” though the project predates all this “30-50 feral hogs” business by more than 20 years. Cinghiale’s one album, Hoofbeats Of The Snorting Swine, came out in 1996, a busy time for two musicians who’ve always worked in something of a collaborative whirlwind. It captures Williams and Vandermark darting around each other in vertiginous, sharp-edged pieces. Characteristic of both players, Cinghiale tends to blur the line between the rigor of composition and the freedom of improvisation. Vandermark and Mars have recently been working on writing material for the project, so expect these bristly boars to stampede in some new directions here. Chicago-based guitarist Steve Marquette opens with a solo set. —Scott Gordon